Cavities can be a real pain. Literally. Worse yet, they can result in serious oral health problems. Untreated cavities can lead to infections and significant tooth decay. If you leave a cavity for too long, you may need a root canal or even a tooth extraction.
The best way to handle cavities is to stop them from happening in the first place – in the world of dental care, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Here are 5 tips to help you avoid cavities:
Brush and floss regularly
You knew this one was coming. You need to brush your teeth twice a day and, optimally, floss them once a day as well.
The plaque provides food and hiding places for bacteria. By brushing your teeth, you eliminate the bacteria’s food and home. Those bacteria secrete acids, which are what cause cavities – that’s why brushing is so important.
Bacteria are very small – that means they can get to places where your toothbrush simply can’t reach. That’s why you need to floss, too – it can help you get rid of the plaque in those hard-to-reach places.
Use toothpaste with fluoride. Fluoride does two things: it stops the acid secreted by bacteria from eating away at your tooth, and it remineralizes your teeth. Remineralization is a complicated process, but the basics are simple – fluoride helps reinforce your teeth, making it harder for bacteria to eat through them.
Get regular dental cleanings
Even if your brushing and flossing routine is picture-perfect, you’ll need to visit the dentist for regular dental cleanings.
You see, the plaque has a nasty habit of building upon itself. And even if you’re incredibly good at brushing and flossing, plaque will eventually build up on some parts of your teeth until it turns into a substance called tartar. Tartar can’t be brushed off – it’s too hard.
Tartar can even end up building up below your gums, where it’s almost impossible to brush. And, just like plaque, it provides shelter for cavity-causing bacteria. That’s why you need dental cleanings – your hygienist will use specialized tools to eliminate tartar.
If you’re worried about getting a dental cleaning, you’re not alone. Many patients have what we call dental anxiety. Fortunately, there are several different ways of dealing with dental anxiety – ask your dentist about their methods.
Smoking is bad for your oral health, just like it’s bad for your overall health. Smoking can irritate the gums, creating pockets where bacteria can hide and cause tooth decay. It can also lead to dry mouth, which is a serious problem – saliva is an essential part of remineralization and cavity prevention.
Watch what you eat and drink
Sugary foods and drinks are delicious – for humans and bacteria. You should be careful about how many sweets you eat. There are many types of food you should avoid for healthy gums. You should also watch out for acidic foods – coffee and tea can do more than just stain your teeth.
Drink a lot of water. When you’ve had acidic or sugary foods, consider drinking water to wash some of them away.
Consider dental sealants
It’s a shame more people don’t know about dental sealants – they’re a great way of preventing cavities.
You can think of dental sealants as protective coatings that go around your tooth. They’re most often applied to the molars, which are located far enough back that many patients have a hard time brushing and flossing them properly.
Sealants don’t replace a good oral health routine, but they do help prevent cavities. When coupled with brushing and flossing, they can seriously limit your chances of developing dental decay, or of any existing dental decay from getting worse.
We hope these tips help you stave off cavities. And remember to visit your dentist at least once a year for a comprehensive exam!